Silver Bullets

Article submitted by Colin Brown – West Midlands Region Rep for the Motorcycle Action Group & SSRP focus group member.

Anyone who has been riding motorcycles for any length of time will be familiar with the fact that it is not the safest way to get from A to B. So why do we do it?

There are many reasons why people ride motorcycles, in fact, probably as many reasons as there are people riding motorcycles. For the enthusiast there is no experience that comes close to the feeling of riding a bike. At the other end of the scale there are those that ride simply because it is the only form of motorised personal transport they can afford. Whatever the reason for riding, though, there can be very few riders out there that would object to the risks of being seriously hurt or even killed being improved a bit.

We all need to take responsibility for our safety on the road, but there is always a trade-off between safety, convenience and enjoyment. We all have different levels of risk aversion and the “safety police” have spent years concocting different methods to make us all safer, from enforcing wearing crash helmets, to taking extra training. The results of all these different tactics are variable and, to be fair, almost impossible to measure and prove to be effective. Little wonder therefore that the subject becomes one that switches most riders off. Interventions can be seen as simply ways to restrict our fun, remove our freedom of choice or worse still cost us even more of our hard-earned cash. There are no silver bullets are there?

What if I suggested to you, then, that there is a way to improve your chances of getting home safely that does not involve spending any money, taking extra training, changing your riding habits or spoiling your fun? If I could offer that to you, would you buy in, would you take time to consider the suggestion or would you just label me as a lunatic?

Given that you are still reading, I am going to assume that my mental faculties are not believed to be closely related to the cycles of the moon. Thank you for your vote of confidence.

If you need no further persuasion or reasoned argument please just skip the next four or five paragraphs.

There is a line of thought that suggests that more motorcycles on the road make the roads safer for motorcycles. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Simply increase the number of motorcycles on the road and the number of accidents and injuries will go down. Can it be true? Am I having a giraffe? More of those death-traps on the road will make the roads safer? ….. Yes.

The Motorcycle Industry Association mention in their report “Realising the motorcycling opportunity” that “when motorcycle use increases to 10% of the vehicle stock, sharp falls in casualties start to occur.” In the UK powered two wheelers account for 4% of the vehicle stock and there are 2.91 fatalities per 10,000 registered machines (based on 2012/13 figures). In Belgium 10% of the stock are PTW’s and fatality rates are 2.02 per 10,000 machines, but in Italy (hardly the place we think of first for safe roads) 16% of the stock are PTW’s but fatalities are just 1.28 per 10,000 machines. These are not made up figures. The report is co-authored by Highways England and the National Police Chiefs Council.

Before you all move to Italy, consider this. In London they introduced a congestion charging zone in 2003. Given that powered two wheelers were not subject to charging it is hardly surprising that there followed an increase in the proportion of motorcycles and scooters used in the charging zone. I recently read a report made by TfL in 2005 on the effects of the charging zone. I was interested to note the following admission with regards to collisions:

“Most noticeable was the decrease in the involvement of pedal cycles and powered two-wheelers despite the significant increase in the numbers of these observed in traffic counts (Section 3).

Further analysis indicates that the reduction in involvement of powered two-wheelers and chargeable vehicles (including cars, lorries and vans) after the introduction of the scheme was significantly greater within the charging zone than across the rest of London.”

The London Congestion Charging Zone has to be about as close as you can get to a real-world test of the effects of increasing the proportion of motorcycles on the road to a control group where proportions did not increase. So, in the charging zone, where there were more PTW’s in proportion to other vehicles, there was a “noticeable decrease” in collisions involving PTW’s, compared with outside the zone, where proportions had not changed.

So there you have it. To help reduce the risk of coming a cropper on your bike, the best course of action for you to take is to persuade someone who does not ride to take up motorcycling. The benefits to the person you persuade include:

Save Road Tax
With 125cc motorcycles only costing £17 a year in road tax, learning to ride a motorbike could save them over £100 against a typical second hand small car of the same value.

Save Fuel
With many 125cc models achieving greater than 150mpg, riding a bike or scooter to work each day will save them hundreds in fuel costs alone.

Save Time
People often wish they had more time in the day, week and year- with a bike they will. Typical motorcycle journeys take 30% less time than the average car! They’ll have more time to see family and friends, hit the gym, and generally enjoy themselves rather than sitting in traffic. The benefit even transfers to other road users as bikes help reduce congestion. A 10% modal shift from cars to motorcycles is proven to reduce congestion for all road users by 40%.

Easier and Cheaper Parking
Motorcycle parking is usually free, or cheaper, and allows them to park close to their end destination.

Save the planet and everyone’s health
Motorcycles are far more environmentally friendly than cars producing on average 21% less emissions compared to equivalent cars. It is proven that a 10% modal shift from cars to motorcycles reduces all harmful emissions by 6% overall.

Motorcycle Action Group is working behind the scenes with transport planners and politicians to get the changes to transport policies which fully embrace the benefits of motorcycles. This will promote road safety and protect our rights as riders. Let us not forget though, that we can all play an individual role by just persuading friends, family and work colleagues to open their eyes to the benefits, shake off their prejudices and get out there on two wheels.

Think you can handle that? Well, what are you waiting for?

About the author:

Colin Brown is West Midlands Region Rep for the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG), the leading riders rights group in the UK. You can join MAG online at www.mag-uk.org or by calling 01926 844064. Membership costs just £27 for a year, and the more members we have the louder our voice becomes.

References:

  1. Realising the Motorcycling Opportunity: A Motorcycle Safety and Transport Policy Framework.

http://www.motorcycleframework.co.uk/

  1. Leuven Report – Commuting by motorcycle: Impact Analysis

http://www.tmleuven.be/project/motorcyclesandcommuting/20110921_Motorfietsen_eindrapport_Eng.pdf

  1. Central London Congestion Charging Impacts Monitoring Third Annual Report

http://content.tfl.gov.uk/central-london-congestion-charging-impacts-monitoring-third-annual-report.pdf

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